Sustainable Futures PCS relinquishes charter

The DC Public Charter School Board announced yesterday that Sustainable Futures PCS has decided to close the school on June 29, 2018 after one year of business.  It opened in August 2017.  According to the DC PCSB, the organization received a letter from the school’s board chair Paul Jackson who said the charter “grappled with several challenges during its first year of operations that led to necessary changes at both the board and administration levels.”

Sustainable Futures was one of only two schools to be approved to open during the 2016 application cycle.  The school’s website states that it was established as “a free alternative public high school for students who haven’t traveled the traditional path through school, but are eager to re-engage in their education to create a successful life for themselves.”  Its application calls for enrolling 65 students in its inaugural term.  Only limited information is available about the school from the PCSB, and the school’s web page does not contain a notice about it closing its doors on Harvard Street, N.W.

The charter board does make the statement that it “will examine key events and decisions made about Sustainable Futures PCS” and review at its September monthly meeting the results of an investigation by the staff.

I’m sure its especially concerning to the PCSB that a highly vetted new charter is going out of business after only a year.  This comes on the aftermath of the shuttering of Washington Math Science and Technology PCS due to financial problems that were only recently made known publicly but were discovered by the charter board in May 2017.

 

Denver School of Science and Technology PCS wins $250,000 Broad Prize

Yesterday it was announced at the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s annual conference that the Denver School of Science and Technology Public Schools won the Board Prize for being the nation’s leading charter management organization.  As DSST chief executive officer Bill Kurtz explains,

“The Broad Prize is determined based on publicly available student performance data from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years for 41 of the country’s largest public charter management systems. The review board considers student outcomes, college readiness indicators, scalability, size, special education results and student demographics such as poverty. This data-driven approach makes the award all the more meaningful to us.”

Melanie Asmar of Chalkbeat reveals that the award is presented yearly by the The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and that this is the second time in 12 months that DSST has been a finalist.  She indicates that the grant of $250,000 that comes along with the selection must be used to prepare minority and low-income students for college.  The reporter also provides some background on the charter school:

“DSST operated 13 middle and high schools in Denver this past school year, serving 5,300 students. More than 80 percent were students of color, and two-thirds qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. DSST strives for diversity and at some of its schools, gives priority to students who qualify for subsidized lunch.

In choosing DSST, the 10-member Broad Prize review board noted that for the past decade, 100 percent of DSST graduates have been accepted to four-year colleges or universities. They also recognized the network’s high test scores, particularly on the ACT.”

Ms. Asmar also informs us that the charter is expanding.  “DSST is poised to grow even more in the coming years. It will open a new middle school in far northeast Denver this fall, and a middle school and a high school in the neighboring city of Aurora in 2019. The Aurora school board has approved four DSST schools in what will be the network’s first expansion outside of Denver. Meanwhile, the Denver school board has approved eight more DSST schools that don’t yet have opening dates.”

Mr. Kurtz had this to say about his network’s accomplishment:

“Winning the Broad Prize is a great achievement, but we know we still have work to do to serve all of our students with excellence. Continuous improvement is part of our ethos, part of our culture, and we’re eager to work on ways to get better during the next school year.”

I visited the Denver School of Science and Technology a couple of years ago as part of the Amplify School Choice conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Public and Government Integrity and was blown away by the presentation by Mr. Kurtz.  He explained that the teachers and staff at his school have done much to close the academic achievement gap between affluent and low-income students, which I at the time was 12 points.  However, he added passionately, any difference between standardized test scores between these two groups is too large.  His value-based approach to learning impressed me because it mirrors our department’s customer service program at my place of employment.  In fact, when I met the DSST CEO in 2016, before bringing up academics, facilities, or finance, he spoke about the values that he tries to instill in his scholars.

 

Emily Lawson stepping down as DC Prep PCS CEO

While my wife Michele and I were vacationing in London last month Emily Lawson, the founder and chief executive officer of DC Prep PCS, announced that she was stepping down as head of the school.   Towards the end of 2018 Laura Maestas will become the new CEO.  Ms. Maestas currently plays the role of Chief Talent Officer at the school.

Ms. Lawson states that Ms. Maetas is the right person for the job because:

She thinks about people first. Laura’s career has focused on talent – how to attract, develop and retain a diverse group of great people. Talent has been – and always will be – a huge priority for DC Prep. Laura’s talent expertise and lens will help us remain a great place to work on behalf of students.

She’s tremendously thoughtful. Okay, I’ll just say it: Laura’s really smart! When she considers an issue, she sees all angles, and asks questions until she knows she sees it in three dimensions. In a complex world, it’s essential for our CEO to have this view.

She is committed to high standards – for our students and for herself. Like all of us, Laura wants the best for our students, and she holds herself to a high standard in advancing that goal. She is a great model of growth mindset. And while she is creative and open-minded, she is also extremely persistent and determined. She will make sure that DC Prep continues to set the bar for excellence in education.”

My friend Michela English, the former president and CEO of Fight for Children, who is DC Prep’s chair of the board of directors, released the following statement regarding the selection of Ms. Maestas:

“I am thrilled that Laura Maestas will be DC Prep’s next CEO.

Our Board engaged in a comprehensive process to evaluate Laura as a candidate for this role.

  • Last fall we retained an experienced external consultant to seek input from Laura’s DC Prep colleagues and to assess her strengths and growth areas against the skills needed in the CEO role. We were greatly encouraged by this assessment and thus publicly announced her candidacy.
  • As a next step, we asked for the involvement of staff and parents in our stakeholder interviews.  The Board and I are very grateful to the 24 staff members and parents who answered this call.  Their reflections after interviewing Laura offered valuable insights that influenced our decision, and Laura has benefitted from their feedback.
  • Following that process, and informed by both our consultant’s report and the three group stakeholder interviews, members of the Board interviewed Laura. Last week, the full Board voted unanimously to extend Laura the offer to become our next CEO.
  • We are delighted that she has accepted our offer!

Laura joined DC Prep two years ago as our Chief Talent Officer responsible for Recruitment, People Operations, and PrepEX!  During that time she has built a high-functioning Talent Team, evolved our diversity recruitment and improved our faculty compensation.  She has also served as a member of the Executive Team and worked especially closely with our President and CAO, Katie Severn.

A graduate of Kenyon College and of New York University School of Law,  Laura has devoted her career to the field of education.  Prior to coming to DC Prep, she worked on education-related projects as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. and in New York City and Newark Public Schools. She then served as Chief Talent Officer for Uncommon Schools, a high-performing charter network based in New York.

It is never easy to succeed the founder of an organization who is as successful and well-respected as Emily Lawson, but the Board and I feel very fortunate to have someone of Laura’s experience and talent here at DC Prep who is committed to leading our schools into the future. Laura is already deeply immersed in the people management aspects of DC Prep, which is a foundational part of our organization. Over the next few months, Laura will delve into the other aspects of DC Prep and will benefit from having Emily’s support and counsel as she transitions into the CEO role in early November. Once Laura takes on the full responsibility of the CEO role, Emily will serve as a Senior Advisor and will remain on the Board of Directors to be available to Laura. We are also developing a plan that will enable Laura to better get to know the many members of the DC Prep community, including many of you.

At DC Prep, we are very fortunate to have a strong leadership team — including our principals and academic and executive leaders. We also have an experienced and committed Board of Directors. I am proud to serve as DC Prep’s Board Chair, and I look forward to working with Laura and with all of you to ensure the continued achievement of our students in the future.

None of us will ever be able to properly thank Emily and Terry Eakin, my predecessor as Board Chair, for all that they have done for DC Prep.  I am personally delighted that Emily will stay involved as an active member of our community in the years ahead.

Thank you for your support.”

Ms. Lawson mentions that she has been in her current position for 17 years.  Of course, this is not the first time she tried to relinquish the job as CEO.  Six years ago, current chair of the DC Public Charter School Board Rick Cruz was named as her replacement.  A year after starting in the position he resigned.  You can read my interview with Mr. Cruz here.

The 7th Annual Richard Wright PCS Black Tie Gala

O.K. I finally get it.  Last Friday night my wife Michele and I attended Richard Wight Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Art’s 7th annual Black Tie Gala.  We have been to this event several times in the past and have enjoyed ones like it as many of D.C.’s charter schools hold fundraisers.  But the event is not primarily about increasing the institutional endowment.  It is actually staged to celebrate this city’s next generation of leaders.

One hundred percent of this school’s 325 scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals.  In other words, they all come from low-income families and therefore their upbringing is about as different from the ones my kids had as you can get.  But that is not the focus of the celebration.  We came together to honor the academic achievements of those who could easily have been left behind, ignored, and forgotten about.

The symbolism for the importance of these young people started with the setting.  For the first time it was held at the University of the District of Columbia.  My hero Dr. Marco Clark, the charter’s chief academic officer and founder, informed me early in the night that the college’s communication department has formed a partnership with the one at his school in which Richard Wright’s students would be able to take advantage of UDC’s facilities.  He added that as part of this relationship the charter would have input into the program’s design.

The spirit of defining excellence continued with the highly professional glossy booklet containing the program.  It is more accurately described as a book it is so dense with pages.  Contained within it are congratulatory letters from ten D.C. Council members and U.S. Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton and U.S. Representative (Shadow) Franklin Garcia.  In a note from Mr. Gregory Adams, Sr. , the school’s board chair, he speaks about the tremendous accomplishments of Richard Wright this term.  He writes:

“During the school year 2017/2018 Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts received its full accreditation through the Middle States Accreditation Agency and was named one of the 41 Most Innovative K-12 Schools in America for its revolutionary approach to education.  Our students were invited again to the Annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s Public Policy and Media and Telecommunications Symposium with many notable and historic Civil Rights icons.  This year our students were asked to participate, cover, and produce a documentary film on Reverend Jesse Jackson, who met personally with them to talk about his educational experiences and the importance of education.  Our founder and CEO, Dr. Marco Clark recognized during the legacy dinner with a “Distinguished Leadership Award” from Reverend Jackson in appreciation for his exemplary dedication and leadership and commitment to the community.  We attended and covered the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Convention, the Health Mean Business National Summit at the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotarian Club International Women’s Day Celebration, the State of Race in America hosted by the Aspen Institute at the Newseum, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation Careers in Entertainment DC at the Fillmore Theater, and the White House for the South by South Lawn (SXSL) event as an Official Selection the 2016 White house Student Films Festival.  I guess it would be safe to say that this year Richard Wright was everywhere.”

Student films are always a highlight of the agenda, and the Reaching Our Excellence in Education (ROXIE) interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson was simply unbelievably moving.  His description in slow deliberate words of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated coming after his powerful delivery of his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the evening before was enough to move the audience to tears.  Others such as “Black Girl Fly,” and a disturbing portrait of an interaction between a mother living on welfare and her teenage daughter reminded the overflow crowd of the obstacles that these students have had to overcome just to be able to have a chance to sit in a Richard Wright classroom.

The formal part of the sit-down dinner included the presentation of awards as a way of demonstrating to parents, teachers, students, and guests what is possible to accomplish in this world.  Those recognized included Ronald Mason, UDC’s president; Angie Gates, director government of the District of Columbia Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment; Pastor Melvin Maxwell, senior pastor, the East Friendship Baptist Church; Gwendolyn Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins Foundation president; Malcolm Jenkins, NFL player, philanthropist, activist, and entrepreneur; Shauna Small, entrepreneur; and actor Michael Rainey, Jr.  Raheem DeVaughn, singer, songwriter, and humanitarian, served as the Master of Ceremonies.  D.C. Council member Trayon Wright, Sr. was also recognized for his work in the community.

Many months ago Dr. Clark was kind enough to come to my place of employment and provide a discussion around leadership to my managers.  They were captivated.  Perhaps it is simply through his will, together with the efforts of his team that include the invincible Michelle Santos,  that he is able to persuade these kids to achieve up to their highest potential.  It is no wonder that all of the school’s 50 seniors this year have been accepted to college.

 

 

 

 

 

 

D.C. Council passes emergency legislation to allow 26 high school students to graduate

As follow-up to an issue reported here last week, the D.C. Council, by a 12 to 1 vote, yesterday passed emergency legislation to allow high school seniors who missed more than 30 days of class, or 6 weeks, to receive a diploma.  The bill was approved despite opposition from D.C. Mayor Bowser, interim Deputy Mayor for Education Smith, and the traditional school system management.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein indicates that because the act is classified as “emergency” it would not be reviewed by Congress. However, if ever there was a time that members on Capitol Hill should provide oversight it is this case. Apparently, our local representatives don’t understand the concept of accountability.

In perfect DCPS fashion, the exact number of students who would be impacted by this move is uncertain.  At first the number was 64 but yesterday it went down by 59 percent to 26 pupils. The purported reason for the steep decline is that many of whom have been chronically absent have also failed to pass their classes academically.  Ms. Stein states that “A D.C. schools spokesman said the number of students the legislation will affect is not final.”  There are 3,623 seniors in the traditional schools.

Mr. Grosso, who along with Councilmember Robert White sponsored the legislation, asserts that, according to Ms. Stein, “the school system started enforcing long-ignored attendance policies in the middle of the year, amid the graduation imbroglio. They said it is unfair that students have to pay the price for the city’s mistake.”

The Mayor has not made a decision as to whether she will veto the measure.  The bright light in all of this is the steadfast dignity of the Deputy Mayor for Education.  Ms. Stein quotes Ms. Smith as commenting, “’This emergency legislation undermines [the school system’s] efforts and sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance, suggesting that students need a waiver to excuse absences.  We will continue to stress the importance of attendance because every day counts.”

Every day does count and words matter. Mr. Grosso has championed himself as a civil rights leader for equality.  With this move, he is sending a powerful signal that some individuals are more equal than others.

 

D.C. charters lose five former DCPS schools that could have expanded movement

Yesterday, Jon Banister of Bisnow Washington D.C. revealed that Mayor Muriel Bowser has turned five former DCPS schools over to developers.  These historic and beautiful buildings could have played a major role in expanding our local charter school movement.  For example, Rocketship PCS and KIPP DC are in desperate need of facilities and I’m sure there are many more charters that could have used the available space to try and meet the wait list of 11,317 children whose parents are trying to get them into one of these institutions.

The re-purposed structure, according to Mr. Banister,  include the Franklin School which will become Planet Word, a museum to the language arts.  It is 51,000 square feet and was built as one of the initial neighborhood public schools in our city.  The Crummell School,  which honors abolitionist and teacher Reverend Alexander Crummell, served black students in the 1900s.  It is 108,000 square feet and will become a mixed use development.

The Grimke School gets its name from NAACP president Archibald Grimke.  It currently houses the African-American Civil War Museum.  The approximately 45,000-square-foot property will continue to be the home of the museum plus office space for its architect.  There will also be some room for a cultural organization.

The Randall School used to be the Francis Cardozo Elementary School and Randall Junior High School.  This approximately 50,000 square foot building will become a museum, office space, and restaurants.

Finally, the Hine School, which used to be Hine Junior High School, has become a Trader Joe’s, taking up 60,000 square feet.

So hundreds of thousands of square feet of surplus DCPS facilities that by law should have gone to charter schools are now being converted to commercial uses.  The next time that you hear Ms. Bowser talk about her support for public education and charter schools please be brave enough to remind her that her claims could not be further from the truth.

 

Charter schools are taking a hit due to national politics

A fascinating commentary appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review section by Conor Williams, a New America senior education policy program researcher.  Entitled “Charter Schools have a Betsy DeVos Problem,” it outlines  the story of Hiawatha Academy’s Morris Park Elementary School, a charter school in Minneapolis in which 90 percent of its students are Hispanic.  Most of the children enrolled here are kids of immigrants.  75 percent of the student body is learning English as a second language.  At this facility, the author points out, proficiency rates for math and English language arts are more than twice as high as those in the rest of the state.  According to Mr. Williams,

“Hiawatha schools should be easy for the left to love. They’re full of progressive educators helping children of color from low-income families succeed.  And yet, they’re charter schools.”

Because Betsy DeVos is such a strong supporter of charter schools and her boss President Trump is so vehemently against illegal immigration, it is putting supporters of these alternative schools in a tough position.  Mr. Williams continues:

“And now the teachers are being forced to respond to criticism from people who by most measures should be their allies.  Robert Panning-Miller, the former president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, has called Hiawatha schools emblematic of a ‘corporate reform movement’ that values ‘compliance and test scores over critical thinking’ and criticized them as being part of an ‘apartheid education’ movement, because their children are almost exclusively children of color.”

Of course, the political left has always disliked charters.  It is threatened by charter’s disruption of their dominance of the education monopoly of government schools, and they hate the fact that almost all charters do not have unionized teachers.  But now it seems that the election of Donald Trump, and the selection of Betsy DeVos as his U.S. Department of Education Secretary, has added lighter fluid to their attacks.

So it should come as no surprise that the group leading the collective bargaining agreement negotiations for Cesar Chavez Prep PCS should come under assault by Rachel Cohen writing for the Washington City Paper.  In her recent highly demeaning piece on TenSquare, the charter school consulting group, she includes this quotation that eerily mirrors the words of Mr. Panning-Miller captured in Mr. William’s article,

“Christian Herr, a Chavez Prep science teacher who sits on his union’s bargaining team, says that a major change in his school since TenSquare’s takeover is a greatly increased emphasis on standardized test prep.  ‘It’s not like we needed to spend $140,000 a month to have someone tell us to do more test prep,’ he says. ‘It was really hard for us when our school board decided some things needed to be restructured, but didn’t even come to us, didn’t even ask what we the teachers thought. They have these buildings full of people who live in these neighborhoods and have worked in these schools for a long time, all this expertise, yet you make the choice to bring in someone who knows nothing about it and pay them massive amounts of money.’”

It is a complete mystery how Josh Kern, the co-founder of Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, and who was its executive director for a decade, could be accused of being “someone who knows nothing” about creating a high performing school.  That Ms. Cohen considers herself a credible reporter and includes this remark by one of the leaders who brought the American Federation of Teachers to Chavez without challenging its assertion is proof of her motivation in conducting her investigation.

In her report, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, is made to appear corrupt because he apparently recommended that a school utilize TenSquare to improve their academic results.  Next, I’m sure she will claim he is in cahoots with Charter Board Partners for his advice that a charter turn to them for assistance with governance issues.  The final icing on the cake will be be his providing of the phone number of Building Hope when a new school needs to find its permanent facility.  Somehow turning to experts has become a crime.

It’s all beyond the pale.  Perhaps for her next submission Ms. Cohen could focus instead on relating the tales of the heroes in our D.C. charter schools who are preparing for college young people who in the past might have ended up in prison or dead.  As Hiawatha School’s English language development teacher Natalie Heath explains to Mr. Williams:

“I wish that people knew that the thing that’s most important to us is that students are achieving at high academic levels and they’re also empowered individuals.  That’s all that should matter.  But when it comes to education priorities in 2018, it seems to be the last thing anyone wants to talk about.”

 

 

 

Study of D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program points to struggle teaching low income children

In a balanced story appearing this morning by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, the reporter details a study released this week by the Institute of Education Sciences, which is the “statistics, research, and evaluation arm” of the United States Department of Education that evaluated the performance of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan in the District of Columbia for children living in poverty.

Comparing kids in the program to a control group of students who applied but did not receive a voucher, the group found that after two years of participation students scored lower academically in both reading and math.  The lower reading scores were not significant, but for math the deficit was 10 points for those in the OSP.  D.C.’s non-voting member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who never misses a chance to denigrate the voucher program, commented to Ms. Perry, “That is my chief regret about the voucher program. . . If Congress is interested in putting money in schools, it should be putting that money where the results show the money should be.”

The funding from Congress for the OSP, which I’m sure Ms. Norton understands, goes equally to DCPS, charter schools, and private schools, and provides each with $20 million in revenue per year.  The dollars have been divvied up this way ever since Joseph E. Robert, Jr. promoted the three-sector approach about 15 years ago.

What I could not find in the highly detailed study was the list of participating schools.  The report does state that 59 schools accepted voucher students, which I consider a high number considering about 1,300 kids utilized the scholarships per term.  The investigation does point out that of the institutions accepting OSP pupils “62 percent were religiously affiliated, and 38 percent were Catholic schools operating within the Archdiocese of Washington.”  An interesting side note is that of those schools in the program, 70 percent charge tuition higher than financial award provided by the voucher.

I hope that the results of this study are going back to the schools that these children attend.  It would be extremely interesting to hear their take on the results and whether this information impacts their approach to teaching low-income children.  With all of the unfortunate politics surrounding providing school scholarships to kids living in poverty, it would be fascinating to see if pedagogical improvements come as a result of this data.

 

Two D.C. Council members want to continue bigotry of low expectations; Ahnna Smith says no

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed yesterday that a couple of D.C. Council members, David Grosso, the chairman of the education committee, and Robert White, Jr., plan to introduce emergency legislation next week that would allow students who had excessive absences from school to receive a high school diploma anyway.  According to Ms. Stein:

“The legislation comes amid stricter enforcement of long-ignored attendance policies, which received scrutiny this year after a city-commissioned report found that 1 in 3 high school graduates in 2017 received their diplomas despite accruing too many absences or improperly enrolling in makeup classes. Some students and teachers have argued it was unfair to change the enforcement of attendance policies midyear.”

Remember that this emergency legislation is coming in the wake of a DCPS graduation scandal that demonstrated for all to see that the 2017 four-year 73.2 rate of students receiving high school diplomas was a sham.  Administrators and teachers let students pass who were chronically truant from class and who also should have failed their classes academically.  It has been calculated that the actual  graduation rate would have been in the 40 percent range if the established rules were followed.  The 2018 traditional school graduation rate has been estimated to be 46 percent.

Now Mr. Grosso and Mr. White want to alter this year’s statistic.  Their preference is to wait until the next school year to enforce attendance requirements that should have been adhered to all along.

This whole episode brings me right back to the article last week by the Washington City Paper’s Rachel Cohen reporting on her investigative look at the work of TenSquare.  One way to view her assertions is that she is arguing that it was perfectly alright for Septima Clark PCS and IDEA PCS to post low academic results for their students.  After all, if the DC Public Charter School Board had not held these schools to strict academic standards, there would have been no need for these institutions when they got in trouble to contract with TenSquare in the first place.  She went out of her way to defend those who are not fulfilling the professional responsibilities they were being paid to do, like the teachers and administrators at Cesar Chavez PCS and William E. Doar, Jr. PCS, and cast Josh Kern and his team as evil for making the changes necessary to build the next generation of our city’s leaders.  It is all right out of an Ayn Rand novel where an ill society has reversed the heroes and the villains.

Coming to the rescue in defiance of those who dwell in the cesspool of low expectations is my friend Ahnna Smith, the interim D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education.  She is having none of the excuses culture.  In an email she wrote, according to the Post, “that the legislation fails to prepare students for college and careers.”

She stated “The proposed legislation would inexcusably exempt absences, signaling to students that mastery of content and preparation for the future are not what are most important.  The legislation also ignores the hard work teachers, administrators, students, and families have put in over the last six months, to create individualized graduation plans that will ensure our students receive the preparation they need for the future.”

Good for her.  Ms. Perry states that her opposition to the law will most likely kill it.  I know that Ms Smith does not want the Deputy Mayor of Education job permanently but perhaps we can persuade her to accept it.

Meanwhile, Mr. Grosso admits that the bill he is co-sponsoring would not return the DCPS graduation rate back to last year’s phony number.  Over 1,000 pupils will not graduate due to poor academic performance.  But give him some time and perhaps he will figure out a solution to this obstacle as well.

 

 

CityPaper’s depiction of TenSquare is deeply flawed

I read with profound sadness the strikingly undeserving and destructive article by Rachel Cohen appearing last Thursday in the Washington City Paper regarding the work of TenSquare in D.C.’s charter sector.  It is an extremely long, uneven piece which makes it exceedingly challenging to refute.  So in order to give it a try, I will focus on one portion of her investigation regarding the consulting group’s involvement with Septima Clark PCS.

I was contacted approximately five years ago by Jenny DuFresne, who Ms. Cohen identifies as “Septima Clark’s founder and longtime principal,” during the period that Josh Kern, the founder and managing partner of TenSquare, and James Costan, the school’s board chair, were attempting to close the charter and consolidate it with Achievement Prep PCS.  Based upon Ms. DuFresne’s perspective, I wrote multiple intensely passionate stories about the underhanded way in which this resolution was reached and the pure disrespect shown toward her and her staff.  At the time my blog was being hosted by Examiner.com and when it shutdown in July, 2016 unfortunately I lost access to my posts.  Therefore, you will understand why I cannot link to these commentaries.

Mr. Kern read my columns and was understandably upset.  So what action did he take?  Did he do what others have done over the years when I write something they don’t like such as threaten to sue me, call me nasty names, or try and coerce me into making a correction?  No, Mr. Kern took a different route.  He invited me for a cocktail.

At a downtown hotel I joined both Mr. Kern and Mr. Costan.  For a couple of hours, they patiently went through their logical and detailed reasoning behind the merger and the framework of their communication strategy.  Their approach emanated from the low academic performance of the all male student body at the school combined with severe financial challenges around securing a building in which it could continue to operate.  The impression I came away with from this conversation with Mr. Kern and Mr. Costan was their firm belief that it was an enormously difficult decision but one that was being made solely for the benefit of the low-income children attending Septima Clark.  The only emotion the two men exhibited toward me was kindness.

It would be a natural assumption due to the length of the City Paper expose to believe that it provides a comprehensive overview of TenSquare’s track record.  But one reason for doubting the validity of the author’s assertions is that Ms. Cohen, in support of the slant of her thesis, conveniently leaves out a significant chapter in the company’s history.  This involves the saving of Options PCS.

Toward the end of 2013, the DC Public Charter School Board and Scott Pearson, its executive director, desperately sought to close Options in the aftermath of the monetary crimes committed at the school that served the city’s most emotionally and physically disabled pupils.  In fact, at one point the PCSB voted in favor of charter revocation.  Mr. Kern had been appointed the D.C. Superior Court’s Receiver for the facility.  While he was working feverishly to turn it around I was writing ferociously to keep it going.  My motivation came after reviewing one of Mr. Kern’s status reports to the judge that contained his team’s implementation plan.  The document demonstrated to me in absolute clarity the stellar professional leadership and operations management he was demonstrating to help these kids that no one else could or would teach.

I communicated not infrequently with Mr. Kern while he was overseeing Options, mostly by text message, although there were few details of the case he was allowed to discuss.  But at one especially low point, when it appeared that the fate of the school was bound for extinction, we decided to meet one afternoon at a restaurant across from where I am employed.  While we discussed the current situation for a few minutes it was clear that Mr. Kern could hardly keep his eyes open because he was so tired from the strain of trying to keep Options PCS alive.  Option’s charter was eventually continued under a new administration, and Kingsman Academy PCS is currently in its third school year with an enrollment of approximately 216 scholars.  Mr. Kern introduced its dynamic executive director Shannon Hodge to the charter.  You can read my interview with Ms. Hodge here.

One of the turnaround schools discussed in the City Paper report is IDEA Academy PCS.  When I sat down in 2015 for a conversation with the school’s CEO Justin Rydstrom, he spoke about his charter having received assistance from TenSquare.  But what he was absolutely giddy about was the strikingly miraculous academic results his school had been able to post.  I underscored those statistics in my recent interview with Mr. Kern.  At a celebration for the charter’s accomplishments, Abigail Smith, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education commented, “IDEA is an example of what can happen when dedicated school leaders set a culture of high expectations for both students and staff.  Two years ago, IDEA was on the brink of closure. Today it is a school where students feel welcome, supported, and inspired to learn. The IDEA community should be proud of this remarkable achievement.”

I first met Mr. Kern in 2011 when he was executive director of Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, the high performing charter he co-founded in Anacostia.  He introduced me to his academic director Alexandra Pardo, who thoroughly impressed me with her knowledge and commitment. Ms. Pardo would succeed Mr. Kern as executive director of Thurgood Marshall and eventually joined TenSquare.

Ms. Cohen talks to many people who are critical of Mr. Kern and TenSquare who frankly have not done, or are not doing, a good job for our kids.  Here’s the bottom line.  No charter school is required to hire TenSquare.  But when it comes to the critically important job of educating our children, choices must be made.  If you ask me whether I line up on the side of Josh Kern, James Costan, Justin Rydstrom, Shannon Hodge, and Alexandra Pardo, or the naysayers who have utilized TenSquare featured by Ms. Cohen, then I pick Mr. Kern.  Every time.